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Archive for March, 2009

The Crisis of Christian Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 31, 2009

God isn’t an Old Man with a White Beard, He’s a Young Man With a Black Beard

I have a bone to pick with Creationists, and it has little to do with the age of the Earth, for I consider myself a Creationist myself.  Rather, it is that the Christian imagination sidetracks itself when it flees from the human into the natural sciences.  As its name would surely imply, Christianity is the religion which combines a Theocentric Anthropology, and an Anthrocentric Theology.    This is such a basic fact that people constantly loose sight of it.  Calvin famously took Ostiander to task for predicating a connection between the Logos and the human species even before the fall.  Yet surely Ostiander had a point, in that the expression “made in our image” is antecedant to the fall and redemption.

Even the most elementary survey of comparative religion will show that the Christianity’s claim to be the “human religion” is no idle boast.  Once, that is, we have extracted ourselves from the contemporary rhetorical quagmire which conflates “humanism” and “secularity.”  The philosophy of Yoga, for instance, seeks with great ernestness to reduce the human entelechy to the various elements constituent of the universe (in non-Brahminical sects) or divinity (in Brahminism).  Shamanism, a widespread and primal notion, seeks with equal ernestness to assimilate the human spirit to that of various animals.  On the other hand, the various non-Christian psychisms, spiritisms, and occultisms promote a commerce between the spirit of their practitioners and various preternatural beings.  It is only Christianity which holds out for humanity qua humanity as central to divine concern.

One would think that contemporary Christian thinkers would see in Anthropology the strong suit of any contemporary evangel.   All the more so in that the force which opposes Christianity is so blatently anti-anthropic (i.e., as epitomised in C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man”) and one can usually chart a sure course by going in a direction opposite irrelgious resistance.

Yet sadly there is no movement in the cutural sciences which Christians have granted the kind of importance (before even coming to assent) which has been lavished on opposition to Darwinism in geology, biology, and that kind of anthropology which would be better termed “human zoology.”  This is what I consider the “crisis of Christian anthropology.”  This is not to say that there is no Christian (cultural) anthropology whatsover, indeed there are several, often noncommunicating, paradigms which might be called (and sometimes are called) Christian anthropologies.  To the best of my knowlege these can be grouped into the following five categories, which I have listed in acending rank of scientific promise.  Note that here scientific promise correlates to lack of respectability and to some extent presence of danger.

Five Possible Christain Anthropologies

1.  There is a kind of mainstream anthropology which is done by Christians as well as secularists.  So we find textbooks written by Christian authors largely for missiological purposes which in no way challenge the material basis of secular anthropology.  In this category one can also put several institutes which translate Bibles and mission literature into isolated and/or minority languages, and which sometimes do original research in the area of linguistics.  These people are generally bright and respectable, but are in no way challeging secularist presuppositions in culturology in the way a Creationist might (rightly or wrongly) challenge Darwinian geology.  (Which is not to doubt their physical courage, after all missionary-ethnographers are more likely to suffer martrydom than the theorists of the other categories!)

2. “Anthropology” as it is construed as a category in Scholasticism and Protestant Systematic Theologies.  This largely centers on pneumatology or the nature of “the soul”, its distinction, or otherwise, from the spirit and relation to the body.    In many respects this is a well picked over field which consists in numerous opinions on how to, or if to, baptize Aristotel’s “De Anima.”  The focus is so narrowly focused that much of what constitutes the human sciences (eg. the history of technology, art, language) escape it.  Still it contains a number of Christian classics which should be on everyone’s “must read” list.

3. Philosophical Anthropology in so far as it is Christian.  And indeed, philosophical anthropology tends to be Christian, not only because of the major premise stated at the beinging of this essay but because in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries this was the dicipline which sought to retain the realist assumptions implicit in the question “What is Man?” after the hyper-nominalism of empirical, secular anthropology had endeavored to render the idea of a common species-nature for humanity meaningless.  Perhaps the best example of this is Max Scheler’s value-based anthropology.  Also I am inclined to put Ivan Illich’s varied speculations into this category, rather than the subsequent one, even though Illich (no more than Scheler) was no realist or scholastic…none the less such thinkers attempted to fill the lacuna left by philosophy when it surrendered the idea of a unified human nature to the various empirical sciences.  The present consensus is that none of these systems were entirely satisfactory, and indeed, Scheler was finally unable to reconcile his ideas with theological orthodoxy.

4.  Christian Culturology, in the sense of anthropological speculations which subsist with the salvation history contained in the Bible as part of a single unbreached continuum.  To the best of my knowlege the only representative of this type is the mimetic theory of Rene Girard and sundary variations and responses thereto.  Girard goes beyond Freud’s notion of the primal murder as the foundation of all culture in “Totem and Taboo” and sanctifies the process, showing that the revelation of human cultural mechanism was made transparent through the passion and the resurection of Christ.  This is a purely naturalistic explanation of culture, which most Christians seem perfectly comfortable with.  What almost all Christians baulk at is the uncomfortable feeling, in spite of Girard’s reasurances, that it implies a naturalistic explanation of the atonement and justification.

5. Preternatural explanations of culture.  In my opinion this is the ultimate goal…nothing less than the restoration of the original Christian, and Biblical, understanding of culture.  It is also the most dangerous option, both professionally and spiritually.  The truth of the matter is that, apart from eschatological rhetoric, Christian thinkers want to have as little as possible to do with supernatural…or more precisely preternatural.  That is to say, while giving lip service to the notion that we live in a multi-storied world, they are unwilling to use this notion as a tool for understanding culture in anything but the most general sense.  Yet the Bible and many traditions clearly indicate that much of what we call “culture” is a gift, even if a treacherous gift, from preternatural beings.

I am glad to mention two European thinkers of the last century, who whatever their failings, were brave enough to speak of civilization and the supernatural in the same breath.  One was Rene Guinon, who converted to Islam, but wrote extensively on symbolism as a clue to the mysterious forces which have interfered with the development of civilization.  The other is Valentin Tomberg, who did yeoman service for the Roman Catholic faith, but is still viewed with suspicion for possibly importing ideas of his earstwise mentor Rudolph Steiner into Christian mysticism.  Tomberg did not shy away from using the concept of the “eregevor”…i.e., the cognitive and spiritual prenumbra cast by a preternatural being over a population or an institution.  In this view eregovors, rather than human interaction, are the source of much which we commonly designate as culture.

I am not saying that this last category should be used as an exclusive explanation of human culture.  Indeed, such a thesis would sugest to certain minds that all culture is demonic!  None the less, it is fitting that the Christian anthropologist  recognize “all truth” without being intimidated by either the prejudice of naturalists or the specter of the preternatural itself.  However slight the inflence of the preternatural might be on human cultures, the total exclusion of this influence as a possible hypothesis (under naturalist pressure) introduces a systematic bias into our understanding of human events.

Conclusion: A Possible Synthesis

If Christianity is the Anthropological religion, then its advocates should not only “be all things to all men” but should also have a coherent and comprehensive understanding about what we mean by “Man” (Or if you will “the human race”…but this is really a nominalist/realist issue rather than a feminist/antifeminist one!)

The following is the most simple, reasonable, and Biblical schematism that I can deduce at present, and as you can see, it really involves two anthropologies.

“Adamic” or Negative Anthropology

consisting of three components:

a. Undefiled creational nature: elements, corporal entity

b. Nature perverted on human initiative:

“Cainite” culture, murder/sacrifice

c. Preternatural “gifts” to human culture, language, and tools

by sundry genii forming group eregevorim

i. angelic

ii. demonic

iii. neutral or confused

“Deutero-Adamic” or Positive Anthropology

Christ as federal head of assenting logoi

I know that someone will say that this is all terribly simplistic, or that perhaps I have reinvented the wheel.  Come to think of it, could anybody reinvent the wheel without downloading the information from a preternatural being?  (Sorry about that, after this super-serious article, I have to lighten up a bit!)

Posted in Christianity, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Traditionalism | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Why I Have Not Been Blogging During Lent (Hint: Not a Vow)

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 11, 2009

Courtesy of the Wisdom of Thomas Babbage McCaulay

First of course, I can’t say anything about the economic or political situation which has not been said better, or more hysterically than anyone else.  My only comment at this point is DON’T BLAME ME I VOTED FOR RON PAUL!  Beyond that, I can think of nothing particularly eloquent…except to say that things are going to get worse before they get better.

It is easy to loose track of that “…before they get better” caviat.


(From Edinburgh Review, 1830) “If any person had told the Parliament which met in terror and perplexity after the crash of 1720London would be twice as large and twice as populous, and that nevertheless the rate of mortality would have diminished to one half of what it then was, that the post-office would bring more into the exchequer than the excise and customs had brought in together under Charles II, that stage coaches would run from London to York.” that in 1830 the wealth of England would surpass all their wildest dreams, that the annual revenue would equal the principal of that debt which they considered an intolerable burden, that for one man of £10,000 then living there would be five men of £50,000, that in 24 hours, that men would be in the habit of sailing without wind, and would be beginning to ride without horses, our ancestors would have given as much credit to the prediction as they gave Gulliver’s Travels

Thus a man of 1830 addresses himself to the hysteria surrounding the Panic of 1720.  The man was Thomas Babbington McCaulay,  the famous Scott Victorian writer and Whig politician.    The Whigs were the progenitors of the Liberals, who we in turn would call Libertarians today.  To be sure, not a “Raaaydical” as Murray Rothbard would say, but a kind of CATO Institute gentlemanly reforming libertarian.  Or perhaps a Victorian Voglinian, cautioning people to be on guard against “immanentizing the eschaton.”  After all, many people today would rather be vindictively right and live amid immanent crisis than see an upturn during Obama’s watch.  I understand the sentiment…but it is objectively rather perverse.  There is sure to be a morning after, with technology and economic institutions all the better for the shaking out.  Whether the present generations will live to see it is another matter entirely.

And while we are at it, a second nugget of wit from McCaulay on the futility of blogging in general.  Not that McCaulay would have understood what a blog was, or even thought  in terms of what contemporary economists call “oportunity cost”  but the principle of ars longa vita brevis has seldom been expressed better than in the following savaging  review.

(Review of a life of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley by Edward Nares, Edinburgh Review, 1832) “The work of Dr. Nares has filled us with astonishment similar to that which Captain Lemuel Gulliver felt when first he landed in Brobdingnag, and saw corn as high as the oaks in the New Forest, thimbles as large as buckets, and wrens of the bulk of turkeys. The whole book, and every component part of it, is on a gigantic scale. The title is as long as an ordinary preface: the prefatory matter would furnish out an ordinary book; and the book contains as much reading as an ordinary library. We cannot sum up the merits of the stupendous mass of paper which lies before us better than by saying that it consists of about two thousand closely printed quarto pages, that it occupies fifteen hundred inches cubic measure, and that it weighs sixty pounds avoirdupois. Such a book might, before the deluge, have been considered as light reading by Hilpa and Shallum. But unhappily the life of man is now three-score years and ten; and we cannot but think it somewhat unfair in Dr. Nares to demand from us so large a portion of so short an existence. Compared with the labour of reading through these volumes, all other labour, the labour of thieves on the treadmill, of children in factories, of negroes in sugar plantations, is an agreeable recreation.”

The last  joke would have seemed as insensitive to Victorian Evangelical reformers (of whom McCaulay was one) as to the present politically correct lobby.

Posted in Culture & Politics, Economics, Politics | 1 Comment »